Nirei Fukuzumi drew a lot of attention in the winter break by moving from Super Formula frontrunners Dandelion to the struggling Drago Corse team. Speaking via an interpreter to F1 Feeder Series, the Japanese driver opens up about his exceptional move.
By René Oudman
He won two out of seven Super Formula races in 2021 – and was robbed of a third due to a tyre blowout, ruining his title chances – but Nirei Fukuzumi needed a change of environment to keep himself going. You could ask – why? As team leader at Dandelion, Fukuzumi had to pull the cart of one of Super Formula’s most legendary teams. He didn’t disappoint team boss Kiyoshi Muraoka, who fretted after Naoki Yamamoto left and Tadasuke Makino missed races due to illness.
Hadn’t Fukuzumi’s tyre given up on him at the first Suzuka round, he arguably could have been the 2021 Super Formula champion. Dandelion missed out on the teams’ championship by only two points – again, that would have been a title win if Fukuzumi hadn’t scored zero points in the April Suzuka-round.
But like Koudai Tsukakoshi in 2013, who left Dandelion for a backmarker team after getting tantalizingly close to the title, Fukuzumi has dramatically changed course. The 25-year old has joined Draco Corse, a team which has scored exactly zero points since returning to Super Formula in 2020. Why would anyone do that?
“I wanted to take my career to another level,” Fukuzumi explains to F1 Feeder Series. “As well as fully learning how to build a car with a great set-up, I really want to become very skilled at making a great car,” he summarizes.
So whereas Fukuzumi could have opted to stay at Dandelion and rely on their experience, the young Japanese, who won two GP3 races back in 2017, strives to become a more all-round driver. When asking who will be Fukuzumi’s most dangerous opponent this year, it becomes even more clear the new Drago Corse driver is focusing on no-one else but himself. “More than others,” he says, “it’s mostly a battle with myself, and how far I can push. Anyone has the possibility to win on any given day. So we’ve got a chance, but it’s up to me to make that chance a reality!”
After driving 128 laps around Suzuka, Fukuzumi has had his first chance in 2022 to get used to Draco. In a two-day pre-season test, he clocked an eleventh time. “It absolutely was a positive start. Of course there’s always work to do on the car set-up wise, but I think the vibe as well as the amount of communication between myself and the engineers was great.”
By switching from Dandelion to Draco, Fukuzumi is now part of a one-car team. Only a few squads run a single car, as nine out of twelve teams enter two cars. Two cars would obviously gather more data than a single one, which Fukuzumi acknowledges. “This isn’t really an issue that I normally am involved with, but having a two car-team would be a plus. I hope that (Drago Corse) will become a two-car team in the future.”
For the 2022 season, Fukuzumi dares to dream. At the same time, he knows a title chance is not very realistic. “Obviously I want to become (Super Formula) champion. But before that, we need to get points (in) every race. I’d like to be able to bring a championship to (Drago) at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Header photo credit: Nirei Fukuzumi/Instagram
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